Water Shortages [Africa and the Middle East]
The Middle East and several of the neighboring countries in Africa are known for their arid climates. Only four rivers, the Nile, the Jordan, the Tigris, and the Euphrates supply most of the freshwater for this region. Because water is scarce, irrigation becomes even more important for raising crops. Furthermore, many of these countries are experiencing growing populations at the same time that they are experiencing water shortages, severely exacerbating the problems. The Middle East has been regarded as an area of conflict, especially in light of recent events; however, these water conditions have led people to believe that in the future conflicts and wars will be waged over freshwater resources.
The three main river basins here are the Nile, the Jordan, and the Tigris-Euphrates. Each basin is shared by several countries. In all three cases, the trend has been for those upriver to allocate more of the water for themselves, decreasing the supply for countries downriver and incurring their anger. For example, Ethiopia, which controls 86% of the Nile River’s flow, plans to divert water, as does Sudan further downstream. Egypt is seeing a growing demand for water, and Ethiopia and Sudan’s policies will only worsen the situation unless solutions are found. Further to the East, Syria and Turkey plan to divert water as well by building dams on the Jordan River and the Tigris and Euphrates, respectively. Like Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq will be deprived of their precious water supply.
In each of these cases, countries want to construct dams because they provide electricity, irrigation, an increase in income, and jobs. Each of these commodities is highly valuable to the nations of the Middle East. Once tensions rise over water use plans that interfere with another country’s resource, several options exist for dealing with the conflict of interest. The involved countries can go to war or avoid fighting but suffer the dire effects of water shortage. They can import grain and other crops to reduce the need for irrigation and increase water prices to encourage conservation. They can also improve efficiency in irrigation and other water uses, work out agreements to allocate and share the available resources, and slow population growth to ease the demand. Whether the nations of the Middle East choose one course of action over another, their decisions will have important political, economic, social, and environmental effects on the rest of the world. After all, “the spreading scarcity of fresh water may be the most underestimated resource issue facing the new world” say Worldwatch Institute members Lester Brown and Christopher Flavin. Although the idea of water wars seems unlikely or a problem of the distant future, the world must learn how to manage its approach to water sources today, as its level of success will determine the quality of our future.
Thinkquest Team "Fish," March 2005, Disclaimer and copyright information